CPL Notebook #2 : AUS/RSEQ alumni hitting the PEI pitch

St.John’s, NL- After a nine-month hiatus thanks in large part to COVID-19, the Canadian Premier League is back and all eight teams are bound for Charlottetown, PEI for ‘The Island Games’ beginning this week.

In their own bubble-style competition, each team will play each other once in the first round, with the top four advancing to the second round before the final two sides will play in a one-off final for the right to be crowned 2020 Canadian Premier League Champion next month.

Within the eight squads vying for CPL supremacy, there is no shortage of U SPORTS alumni expected to play a part for their club in Charlottetown.

From HFX Wanderers current club captain to the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS draft 1st overall pick, here is some AUS and RSEQ alumni to keep an eye on during ‘The Island Games’:

HFX Wanderers: Peter Schaale, Christian Oxner, Omar Kreim, Cory Bent, Aboubacar Sissoko

As the last three U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Champions have come from within the two regions, it should be no surprise to see several players from both AUS and RSEQ already making noise in the CPL, with some newcomers joining the bunch in 2020 for their first season as professional players.

HFX Wanderers Head Coach Stephen Hart has clearly kept as keen an eye as any within the CPL on the talent available at the Canadian university level, particularly out east, as his Halifax side boasts four U SPORTS National Champions and a standout former SMU Huskies keeper.

Peter Schaale D (Cape Breton Capers)

HFX's Schaale returns to CBU after impressive rookie debut ...
(HFX Wanderers)

Of the names on this list, Schaale’s is surely the most recognizable among fans of the CPL. Following a fantastic three years in the AUS with Cape Breton, the German centre-back was selected fifth overall by the Wanderers in the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS draft.

After signing for Halifax in March of 2019, the Wittlich native took little time to acclimatize to the CPL, quickly turning heads within the league with his athleticism and defensive prowess. His early efforts earned him a spot in the CanPL.ca Spring season-best XI, thanks to a league-leading 61 clearances at the heart of HFX’s defensive line.

Following 22 appearances across all competitions, Schaale opted to return to the Capers for his fourth year with CBU in order to complete his degree. For the second year running, he picked up AUS MVP honours as Cape Breton also secured their fourth straight title in the region. Schaale’s U SPORTS accolades include two national finals, including a Championship in 2017 to cap off an undefeated season.

Having since resigned with Halifax ahead of the 2020 season, expectations for Schaale are sky-high amongst the Wanderers faithful. Selected as one of the three captains leading the team into Charlottetown, expect the big German defender to be a crucial member of Stephen Hart’s backline once again this year. 

Christian Oxner GK (St.Mary’s University)

Unlike Schaale or any of the other names appearing on this list, Oxner does not have a U SPORTS national title on his resume.

While his Alma Mater might not be able to match the success the Capers or the Carabins enjoyed in recent years, the Halifax native was no slouch during his time in goal for the Huskies. The 24-year-old kept 10 clean sheets in 33 career appearances for SMU during his four-year varsity career.

Oxner’s efforts in AUS action didn’t go unnoticed and led to him being selected in the third-round, nineteenth overall, in the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS Draft by his hometown HFX Wanderers.

Settling for a back-up role in the early days of his professional career, the local fan favourite quickly became HFX’s first choice keeper, collecting six clean sheets in 2019 during 18 league appearances.

Heading into ‘The Island Games’, Oxner is dealing with a lingering injury, one that’s forced former Wanderers Captain and current goalkeeping coach Jan-Michael Williams to temporarily come out of retirement in the place of the recovering Oxner.

Although he appears to be doubtful to play in Halifax’s tournament opener, all signs point to Oxner recovering to play a role in between the sticks for the Wanderers in the coming weeks.

Aboubacar Sissoko MF (University of Montreal)

Originally selected 12th overall by Forge FC in the 2018 CPL-U SPORTS draft, Sissoko was cut by the Hamilton base side and opted to return to Montreal to suit up for the Carabins once again for the 2019 RSEQ season.

The decision ultimately proved a wise one as the Mali native won the 2020 Lieutenant Governor Athletic Award as the U SPORTS male athlete of the year for his efforts in lifting his side to a second straight national championship game.

While the Carabins came up short in 2019, having beaten Schaale and Co.’s Capers in the previous year’s final, Sissoko still impressed enough to get a contract with HFX Wanderers ahead of the 2020 season. After a trial with the Vancouver Whitecaps, the 24-year-old defensive midfielder’s focus has shifted entirely to making his mark in the Halifax squad.

The holding midfielder’s prowess consists of dictating the tempo and disrupting the opposition’s attack, and as such, his stats far from jump off the page. Considering the accolades he’s collected in his Carabins career and the attention Stephen Hart and Marc Dos Santos have in the player, it’s clear his role hasn’t gone unappreciated across the country.

Although his minutes might not match that of Schaale’s or Oxner’s, at least right away, Sissoko is a very exciting option deep in the Wanderers midfield. With a congested fixture list in the coming month, expect to see the Bamako born standout get his chance to shine at the professional level in 2020.

Omar Kreim MF/F (University of Montreal)

Joining Sissoko on the east coast is his more attack-minded Carabins teammate, Omar Kreim. The Moroccan international signed alongside Sissoko back in November of 2019 after their Montreal side reached a third consecutive U SPORTS final.

The 25-year-old notched a goal and three assists in 2019 with Montreal, also providing the decisive pass on the winning goal in the 2018 national title game, earning U SPORTS Final MVP honours for his efforts.

Kreim has previous experience against CPL opposition, playing every minute for his club team AS Blainville in a two-legged tie against York9 FC last summer in the qualifying round of the Canadian Championship.

The Casablanca born attacker brings some depth and dynamism to a Wanderers squad that lacked both of those things last season. While he’ll likely have to settle for a bench role to begin his professional career, Kreim’s potential to be a difference-maker in the CPL makes him one to watch moving forward in this competition.

Cory Bent MF/F (Cape Breton Capers)

Within the newcomers set to make the jump from U SPORTS to the CPL in 2020, few have higher potential than the former Cape Breton winger.

Bent scored 24 times in his three years as a Caper, adding three AUS all-star selections, the 2017 U SPORTS Championship MVP award, and many more accolades to his CV since making the move from Preston, England.

The former Manchester United academy product was taken first overall in the 2019 CPL-U SPORTS Draft, joining his Cape Breton teammate Schaale some four hours across Nova Scotia in Halifax with the Wanderers.

Small in stature, the 5’6 attacker more than makes up for his lack of size through his pace and finishing ability from wide positions. Unlike Sissoko and Kreim, Bent is being pegged by many on the CPL scene to crack Stephen Hart’s starting XI from the start.

His ability to provide service from the left flank or cut in and be a constant threat to score from the right makes the 23-year-old one of HFX’s more exciting offensive weapons heading into this season.

York9 FC: Isaiah Johnston

Isaiah Johnston MF (Cape Breton Capers)

Being the only U SPORTS product on the York9 roster isn’t the only unique feature of Johnston’s path to the CPL.

After playing just one year in Cape Breton, the 18-year-old was selected 10th overall in the CPL-U SPORTS Draft in 2019 and opted to turn pro this year, with the cancellation of the university season playing a role in that decision. Johnston became the first ‘underclassman’ to choose a pro contract over returning to school to complete his studies.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the Milton native was chosen by Jimmy Brennan considering the young midfielder previously trained with York9 during their 2019 preseason as a 16-year-old. 

While Johnston impressed in early days on trial, the decision to get some reps in at the University level proved a wise one. The Woodbridge Strikers star picked up the AUS rookie of the year award, scoring once and adding three assists as his Capers secured a bronze medal at the U SPORTS National Championships.

As an 18-year-old with three years of League1 Ontario experience, Johnston’s ceiling is as high as any player in his age group across the league. Expected to slot in as a defensive midfielder in a rejuvenated York9 squad, the sky appears to be the limit for this trailblazing standout.

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